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Séville, Astrid (2015): Partisanship and Political Affection. The Normative and Epistemic Functions of Partisan Discourse. Workshop Political Theory and Parties: Towards a Conceptual and Normative Appraisal of Political Parties. ECPR Joint Sessions, Warschau, 29. März - 2. April 2015.

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Political Parties have rarely been appraised as they pose a normative puzzle to political scientists. Sometimes understood as the inherent problem of parliamentary democracy they are criticized for following short-termed, self-interested policies and pursuing particular interests instead of a common good. Accordingly, some scholars appreciate the marginalisation of partisanship and advance a model of “policy without politics” or “depoliticized politics” for the sake of effective problem solving. Political Analysis additionally emphasizes that parties, once in power, play strategic games of “credit claiming” and “blame avoidance”. Parties occasionally diffuse or deny responsibility by referring to constraints and a lack of alternatives. These strategic games can blur transparent and accountable decision-making and thus raise political disaffection. Against this backdrop, my paper reflects on normative and epistemic values of political parties. It follows three strands: First, it reflects on democratic theory. With Laclau and Mouffe (1985; Mouffe 2005, 2015) I substantiate the claim of agonistic democracy that conflict is essential to democracy. Articulations of antagonistic identities provide indispensable frames for distinct interests and political projects. Second, I address the question of democratic legitimacy of governments and oppositions as functions fulfilled by parties. I argue that chances of revision and reversal of political decisions are key; outvoted representatives and voters can accept decisions as binding and legitimate when they know that after a legislature cycle it could be their turn. Consequently, parliamentary democracy and the rule of political parties immanently refer to time horizons and to a reflection on contingency and complexity. Legitimacy and trust in democracy paradoxically depend on parties that communicate themselves as parties and as interest groups. Finally, I discuss my argument in the light of empirical research on strategies by parties that seek to blur accountability, conflict and partisanship and thus internalize the critique of political parties themselves.

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